Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has offered his country’s help in resolving Pakistan’s worsening energy crisis, as he kicked off a two-day official visit to Islamabad on Wednesday.
Deviating from standard protocol, Pakistan’s entire civil and military leadership were present at Nur Khan Airbase, Chaklala, to receive Premier Li when he arrived in Pakistan on the second leg of the visit that also took him to India. Amid tight security, the Chinese premier received a warm welcome as his plane entered Pakistani airspace, escorted by six Pakistan Air Force JF-17s.
Li held formal talks with the Pakistani side, led by President Asif Ali Zardari and Interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, reviewing “the entire gamut of Pakistan-China relations”, according to a statement issued by the foreign office. At a joint news conference with President Zardari, he stressed the need for increased cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector.
“Our two sides should focus on carrying out priority projects in connectivity, energy development and power generation,” Li told reporters at the President House. His offer to address Pakistan’s energy woes comes at a time when the country is facing extensive power outages, which have sparked violent protests.
China is already assisting Pakistan in several energy projects that include nuclear reactors. It has already provided two reactors, each with a capacity of 300MW, at Chashma in Punjab. The two countries are also planning to build two more reactors with the same capacity.
Plan to develop ‘economic corridor’
Li also said the two countries were working to develop an ‘economic corridor’ that will not only spur economic activities but also restore peace in the region.
“Both sides are of the view that by connecting China and Pakistan we can create a joint economic corridor linking the central and western parts of China and Pakistan,” he said.
“This vision, once realised, will have great strategic significance for development, peace and stability in China, South Asia and the rest of the continent, and improve the lives of people in our region.”
The Chinese premier, who was also awarded Pakistan’s highest civil award, the Nishan-e-Pakistan, pointed out that there is great potential for the two countries to enhance their bilateral trade to $15 billion from the current $12 billion over the next two years.
Speaking at a luncheon hosted in his honour, attended by incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif among other political leaders, the Chinese premier said he selected Pakistan for his official visit to give a clear and loud message to the international community that “whatsoever happens at the international scene, our relations with Pakistan will continue to flourish and strengthen further.” He reaffirmed China’s unflinching support to Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
President Zardari responded by saying, “Today is one of the happiest days of my life. Gwadar port and our agreements on satellite connectivity among others are a testament to the fact that the dreams of citizens from both the countries are being realised.”
MoUs to promote bilateral cooperation
According to a foreign office statement, a total of 11 agreements have been signed between China and Pakistan as part of efforts to further deepen ties.
The agreements include memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on maritime cooperation, boundary management, border ports, economic and technical cooperation and cooperation in the field of satellite navigation.
Separately, the visiting Chinese high-powered business delegation signed procurement agreements worth $450 million to help Pakistani businesses utilise the tremendous potential of China.
Meanwhile, Premier Li will have a busy schedule today (Thursday). His engagements include an address to the Senate, a meeting with Nawaz Sharif and a joint call by the services chiefs.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2013.
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